GIVE Across the Globe

Photo provided by Ruby Williams

Photo provided by Ruby Williams

Jessica Deyo

International tourism, one of the largest sources of income for many countries, is an incentive for youth across the globe to learn English before they even learn their native language. Although children have heard English while watching their parents sell handmade products and services to visitors, they have little idea how crucial the language will be to ensure their financial security in the future.

That is why Ruby Williams of Growth International Volunteer Excursion (GIVE) wishes her job as an education coordinator didn’t have to exist.

Williams, a senior studying integrated social studies education, works to write curriculum that will ultimately teach people in Laos the English language. She hopes that the efforts made through GIVE will lead to less of a reliance on outside sources for an English education.

GIVE is an organization that challenges the current trends of volunteer work with its unique mission to value people, projects and principles over profits. The organization has over 10 million volunteers each year in six locations: Nepal, Tanzania, Thailand, Laos, Nicaragua and the Pacific Northwest.

Williams was a freshman when she discovered GIVE and has had the opportunity to contribute to the expansion of the program throughout her four years of college. The program was small during its first year, and Williams recalls just a few teachers gathered around a table while an education coordinator helped plan lessons for the students.

“Our education coordinator, who personally plans the curriculum and the learning, is usually TEFL [Teaching English as a Foreign Language] certified. He basically would tell us, ‘Okay, today you’re going to teach colors, how are you going to do that?’ And we would brainstorm and really work collectively as a group,” she says. “But our lesson plan would be more like colors, a game, maybe ABC’s…it was great for its foundational sense because at that time the students hadn’t learned English.”

In the years following, GIVE’s education program grew rapidly. Williams describes the program as much more organized, with an advanced curriculum, set vocabulary lists and grammar lessons that have helped students become almost fluent in the English language.

Lauren Reese, a GIVE ambassador and a junior studying athletic training, volunteered through the Southeast Asia package and has seen first-hand how GIVE provides children with life-changing resources.

“The children are just flourishing and because they are doing these education programs, if they go so many days a week they get scholarships, so we aren’t only teaching them English, we are also providing scholarship opportunities,” Reese says. “Depending on how many times [a student goes], how many times [he or she] participates, [he or she] could get free school supplies, free boarding or scholarships.”

Providing those incentives isn’t the only aspect that sets GIVE’s education programs apart from those of other volunteer organizations. GIVE also strives to represent local culture, which is often overlooked by other groups, through lesson plans.

Williams says that teaching materials need to be relatable for the children. For example, a phonics chart that shows a little blonde girl, a white boy or an igloo are not relative to most foreign children and can make them feel invaluable.

“They’re seeing this idea of European beauty and every Disney coloring book they get and every fairytale book,” Williams says. “Those pictures don’t look like them and it’s really damaging to their cultural identity.”

Additionally, teachers are required to learn parts of Laos language.

“We’re in this predicament where we’re teaching [the students] English because we know it will benefit them economically because of all of these unfair things in the world. But, that being said, their own culture and their own language is being valued still and I drive that into my teachers up close and personally,” Williams says.

Beyond the curriculum, GIVE also strives to accurately reflect the culture through the appearance of their volunteers. Williams enforces modest clothing to be respectful of the students’ culture.  

Outside of the classroom, volunteers like Reese work to educate locals on sustainable infrastructure through building wells, building schools or planting gardens that fertilize themselves.

“I worked in the permaculture site and I just worked on changing the area they had so they could use the land for something other than rice because Thailand’s main profit in the food industry is rice,” Reese says. “... we were trying to teach these kids that you can use your land for so much more than just rice because rice isn't as profitable as other things are.”

While GIVE members cater their projects to the wants of the location they are in, the approach stays consistent. GIVE commits to asset-based community development, and through that promise, volunteers only use the resources readily available to the locals to ensure long term sustainability.

GIVE’s purpose is to give back to the local communities that it serves, but Williams says volunteers also gain a lesson in humanity. Within just two weeks of volunteer work, she says the local community is beyond grateful, takes in volunteers and shows nothing but compassion.

“Humanity is this giant group of people that live under one roof and border. Nations [and] labels don't have to define us,” Williams says. “People are people and it’s this idea of global citizenship that every dot on the map is a group of faces, its a place, it's a home to somebody and if you actually take the time to go and get to know  [someone’s] story, you’ll connect with them and I think that’s an overarching lesson that everyone walks away from the GIVE experience with.”